| Windy City Basin - Part 1
(I screwed up with the peaks listed. Even though it says Mt. Eolus and North Eolus, Part 1 is about Sunlight and Windom.)
Chicago Basin, nestled high in the Weminuche Wilderness and deep in the heart of Colorado, is a long way from our home. Getting there requires a 6- to 7-hour drive (from north of Denver and east of Boulder), and then a 2- to 3-hour train ride on the Durango-Silverton narrow gauge railroad. In between Durango and Silverton, the train makes a quick stop to drop off backpackers in an area called Needleton. And if we didn't have to get our packs from the cargo car, we probably could've just jumped off. That train moves slow.
With almost 500,000 acres of wild land, the Weminuche is a backpacker's paradise. Taking the stage is the Continental Divide, which runs right through this San Juan Range wilderness area. On one side of the nation's spine water drains to the Colorado River and on the other side water drains to the Rio Grande. Many peaks rise above 13,000 feet, and four rise above 14,000 feet – Mt. Eolus, North Eolus, Windom Peak and Sunlight Peak. Our goal was to climb these four peaks over two or three days, assuming they'd allow us up.
After a long, deer-dodging drive to Durango the previous night (Wolf Creek Pass was LOADED with deer on either side of the road), we checked out of our cheap hotel and headed to the train station. Shouldering our heavy packs, we walked from the parking lot to the ticket office. But before we could get there, we kept getting stopped by people asking us where we were headed. Quite a few wide eyes and looks of surprise, and comments like, "You're doing what?!"
I left Jen with our packs while I went in to get our tickets, and within seconds, some guy had walked up to her asking about our plans. I swear, we were like rock stars. This was normal stuff to us, but I guess a lot of people find it intriguing.
When I first got on the train it was like a step through time. After all, the train was like 100 years old or something. And it was kind of neat to think about the past. I waxed poetic in my mind, thinking about what it was like in the old West. Once the train started blasting through town at 4.3 miles per hour, I was having quite a bit of fun. But 76 seconds later I was no longer excited. Thoughts of train robbers or Indian attacks didn't reinvigorate the excitement, either. However, a lady did ride her horse beside the train for a mile or so. I wondered if she was going to hold us up.
Hours later, the train stopped at Needleton, which is more or less in the middle of nowhere. Everyone helped unload the packs from the rail car, and that's when I realized that Jen and I are pretty light packers. Our packs were only about 35 pounds, but many were much heavier than that.
As I was adjusting some things in my pack, I looked back up at the train only to find about 60 sets of eyes on us. Just about everyone on the train had congregated to the windows or outdoor car to bid the hikers a farewell. But they were kind of looking at us like we were zoo animals. It was weird. It was as if they had never seen backpackers before. I thought one lady was going to cry as she yelled, "Good luck!"
Jen and I started up the trail and quickly began to sweat, as it was muggy and warm. We had 5 or 6 miles and almost a few thousand feet of vertical to go before basecamp.
Not long up the trail, I recognized a familiar face coming down. I opened my mouth to say something, but she beat me to it, asking if I was Aubrey. It was USAKeller (Caroline). Jen and I have nearly crossed paths with Caroline on multiple occasions, but we've never met. It was really nice to finally run into her. We talked for a few minutes and then continued on our opposite paths. Hopefully we'll meet again, and have more time to talk.
Once we made it into the valley, the views really became dramatic. High, craggy peaks surrounded us. It was a beautiful place. And then I heard a faint yell that sounded like "Aaaah-brie." Poking my head around a willow, I noticed a woman waving at us from afar. It was Asdza (Deborah), Jeffro's (Jeff's) wife. We knew they were going to be up in the Chicago Basin area that week, but we didn't know when, and we didn't know if we'd run into them. Had she not yelled to us, we probably would've blown right by.
As we made our way up to their camp, we noticed Jim, Jeff_F, Del_Sur and Jeffro. It was pretty cool to see so many familiar faces. We ended up pitching our tent in the same area.
That night we had some aged rum and we shared a lot of laughs. We also talked a lot about food. In the distance, a baby goat whined incessantly.
8/10: The next morning we were on the trail at 5:15 a.m. with our headlamps blazing. Within a quarter mile another hiker joined us. I couldn't see the guy's face, but I noticed his baby-blue pants and they looked familiar. Turns out, it was a guy named Steve, who we had met on Capitol Peak the weekend prior. Small world.
After huffing up that 1,300 feet or whatever to Twin Lakes, we parted, as Steve was going for Eolus and we were going for Sunlight and Windom.
Beyond Twin Lakes there were quite a few trails to take, though they all seemed to go to the same place. I was kind of annoyed by the many cairns designating multiple paths. But there was one Zen-like cairn that caught my eye.
The scree slope up to the col between Sunlight Peak and Sunlight Spire wasn't much fun, but once we gained that col, the scrambling became really fun. Exposure was light. Rock was solid.
Within no time the summit block came into view at 8 a.m. I think I was more anxious than nervous. The first section was much easier than I had anticipated. Then there were really just two rocks to hop up. The first one had a gap with a 20-foot drop. It was fairly easy to get up, yet committing. The next one was awkward, especially for a short person. I stood up there for a moment, thinking about how I was going to tackle the problem ... and contemplating my life. The drop off to the right was seriously severe (not seen in the photos).
The rock was grippy, but there really weren't any good holds. Just micro nubs. I fingered the rock and found a couple places to dig in. Then I frictioned my Vibram soles and popped up.
Before I go any further, I have to thank Jeffro and Asdza for "showing me the ropes" on the rocks. The time they spent showing us around on Mt. Sanitas' east slopes and the First Flatiron really helped.
Getting down was a little harder than getting up. I slid on my stomach down to the first rock, then I had to make a very committing, "leap of faith" to the next rock down. The jump wasn't necessarily difficult or far, but it had to be precise. One slip or trip could result in serious injury or death. Not a lot of room for errors up there.
After I scrambled down from the summit block, it was Jen's turn. She made quick work of the challenge.
The views from up there were amazing. So remote. So extreme. And so exotic.
Before heading down, I think I signed the summit register. It was adorned with a banged-up 14ers.com sticker. Pure art.
As we were descending Sunlight Peak, we ran into Jeffro and Asdza on their way up to Sunlight Spire. (Sunlight Spire is only 5 feet shy of that magical 14,000-foot number.)
On our way to Windom's ridge, Jen and I were able to avoid all the snow by scampering across short rock ledges ... and then up talus. At first, the climb seemed like it would be unexciting, but it quickly turned into class 3 scrambling fun. Often, we found ourselves climbing up the class 3 stuff rather than taking the easier trail. Before we knew it, we were on the summit.
And, man, what an incredible summit. It's probably one of the coolest summits I've been on. It's all blocky, and it has all sorts of places to explore.
Then, the views were beyond stellar.
After drinking it all in, we turned our sights on Sunlight Spire, hoping to see Jeffro and Asdza. We could barely make them out. To get a better angle, we descended the ridge.
We heard later that they turned back, just feet from the top. It was disheartening, but I was proud of them for making it so high.
As Jen and I climbed back down past the lakes, a few mountain goats seemed to be drawn to us. Perhaps it was my caked sweat that they were smelling, but they seemed determined. Every time I turned around, this one goat was 30 paces behind us. It was freaky.
Below the lakes, we saw the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative folks hard at work, as they were building a new trail. My hat's off to them, and it's just a reminder to send in a check.
Along the trail, we came across more goats. I had to wave my arms to get one guy out of our way. Then he aimed is butt my way and took a big piss in my general direction. I was laughing, so it took me a second to get my camera out, but here he is finishing up:
Back at camp, we had more goats to deal with. Apparently, as I've learned, they like the salt in your pee. So as you're "going," they will literally approach you, just hoping to be first in line. And if you let 'em, they'd probably drink it fresh, right out of the "fountain." Aggressive bastards, they were. But I couldn't help being struck by their strength, agility, balance, etc. Those animals are severely adept in the mountains.
It was nice to chat with friends that evening. And then we crashed hard.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):